Don’t be swayed away by the term ‘sugar alcohols,’ as these are nothing but sweeteners that resemble the structure of sugar molecules and alcohol molecules. Also known as ‘polyols,’ sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that are naturally present in some fruits and vegetables. These are commonly used as sugar substitutes and have become very popular among not only those with diabetes but also other individuals wanting to lose weight, keep a count on their calories, and those watching out for general health. But, it is always better to consult a dietitian/nutritionist and get their approval whether or not it is safe for use for your health.
Carbs & Calories
Though some imagine these sugar substitutes to be calorie-free, in reality, they contain about one-third to half the calories compared to normal sugar. Hence, they are termed as low-calorie sweeteners (LCS) instead of considering them as zero-calorie substitutes. Polyols can be anywhere between 25 and 100% as sweet as sugar without the equivalent calories and negative consequences such as tooth decay or increased blood sugar levels. It is predominantly because they take their sweet own time converting into glucose and require negligible or no insulin for metabolizing.
Potential Advantages of Sugar Alcohols
Due to their slow processing ability, sweets and candies containing sugar alcohols are a welcome treat to those with higher blood glucose levels as these individuals can consume such treats in moderation while maintaining their glycemic levels under control. Also, there are no potential hazards of tooth decay here as the bacteria present in the mouth don’t feed on these sugar substitutes.
Being low-digested carbs, when you consume any product with sugar alcohols, it is not completely absorbed by the small intestine but gets passed through to the large intestine where the bacteria take care of it—yet another advantage here as these substitutes are proud of contributing to the growth of good bacteria. All these make them one of the most-preferred sugar substitutes among diabetics as well as health-conscious individuals.
Potential Disadvantages of Sugar Alcohols
There’s no great harm in adding sugar alcohols to foods in limited quantities, but consuming them in larger quantities might result in digestive issues including gas, diarrhoea, and more. It might even trigger worse symptoms in those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). For those familiar with the acronym FODMAP, P here stands for polyols, and hence, individuals with IBS are recommended to consume a low-FODMAP diet. There have even been instances where doctors have prescribed sugar alcohols as laxatives for some people.
Eating foods with sugar alcohols multiple times daily might upset the tummy and during such times, it is better to find an alternative sweetening agent. Also, though sugar alcohols are low in calories they are no magic pill for weight loss. Eating them in excess could lead to calorie addition. The American Diabetes Association suggests taking sugar alcohols in moderation without consuming them excessively.
Do You Read the Nutrition Label?
Anyone trying to cut down on calorie or sugar intake would grab at the very first opportunity of reading the nutrition label in food packages. There are many food packages that come with the labelling ‘sugar-free’ or ‘no added sugars.’ But remember that even such foods might contain fats, sugars, and carbohydrates. If you look closely, the Nutrition facts would list sugar alcohol as one of the components of total carbohydrates and also its quantity present. If the food has only one or two sugar alcohols, they would be mentioned clearly.
Some popular sugar alcohols include sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, isomalt, maltitol, lactitol, erythritol, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH).
Sugar Alcohols Vs Artificial Sweeteners
There are various substitutes for sugar and two popular ones are sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners. Both are not the same with the primary difference being that while artificial sweeteners contain zero calories, sugar alcohols might contain around 2 calories per gram. Another major difference is that artificial sweeteners have no carbohydrates and don’t pose any risk to increase in glycemic levels. But, sugar alcohols do contain carbs and could have some effect on blood sugar levels. Artificial sweeteners leave you with extreme sweetness being hundreds of times sweeter than normal sugar. There are many food companies that combine both sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners in preparing various food products to enhance their sweetness levels.
Generally, sugar alcohols are not used in everyday food preparation at homes but find a place mostly while making processed foods at factories. Most foods that have a label as ‘sugar-free’ mostly contain sugar alcohol and these include candies, chewing gums, soft drinks, energy bars, frostings, jams, ice creams, and cookies. As they don’t pose any risk to our teeth, sugar alcohols are used in the preparation of toothpaste and mouthwash as well.
These substitutes might be a smart pick for those with diabetes as they not provide taste but also improve gut health. But, as they contain calories and carbs, it is best to consume foods with sugar alcohol in moderation to stay healthy and maintain blood sugar levels under control.
AVOID FRAUD. EAT SMART.
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